You might be asking yourself why I started off this column so obnoxiously by alluding to only a solitary year. That’s OK. Damned OK, actually. Let this year simmer in your head a bit.
If you were like me during that year, you spent much of your time in local arcades or like-stocked establishments continuously plunking quarter after quarter into epilepsy-inducing cabinets of sweet RGB fury. Classics like Final Fight, which taught us before the era of Arnold Republicanism that even would-be statesmen can be physically capable of wiping the floor with opposition, be it governor or mayor. Or Moonwalker, illuminating the then little-known truth that annoying pop-stars have silent night-jobs ridding urban areas of bad dancers, using only their poor choreography and equally poor-yet-paradoxically-influential music to do the deed. Then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which introduced the Transformers Generation to their first real dose of genetics in action. I’m tellin’ ya- had it not been for Donatello, I would have failed Biology a 2nd time.
Yeah, you could say that in some perverted sense of the expression “latch key kid,” I got my education from video games. No news in the house, because of a paranoid family that feared the communist-pinko-liberal media myth. No enrichment from great authors like Arthur C Clarke or Ray Bradbury, only because my attention span at that time was limited to Lite-Brites and equipment found in laundry mats. Try being in my shoes at that time- you would have believed Bionic Commando was a true story as well.
So had it not been for 1991, I wouldn’t have become the Political Science major I am today. What game had this profound effect, you ask? What composition of code presented to inquiring minds their modern world on a plate? What piece of video gaming art was so, so jam-packed with Political Science and cultural information, it puts the CIA World Factbook to shame?
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.
Yes! That’s right! Street Fighter II taught me all I needed to know about world politics better than any Southern California public school system could ever have. Who needs Nightline to tell me that alcoholism was a problem in Soviet Russia, when I could pop in this silicon encyclopedia and see it for myself? You want culture? Why spend at least $93.50 USD to see choreographed elephants when I could have the same result for half the price? The choice is clear! For a lesson on the political realities of the early 90s, look no further than Capcom’s masterpiece.
Face it- SFII had it all. When they printed “World” on the side of those dedicated CPS2 cabinets, they really meant it. And if you still don’t believe me, I’m about to take you on a whirlwind analysis of what the Street Fighter universe had to offer, character by character. Each one offers an insight into the political circumstances of the day. Hell- I was only going to do the selectable characters only- but since I’m in such a good mood, I’m gonna cover the bosses too.
Let’s start this, shall we?
Ryu: As close to a title character as there is in the SF universe, Ryu is the silent, calm, badass whose sole existence is for finding the better fight. Discipline is the name of the game here, and Ryu’s demeanor is a testament to the time. See, if you recall the 80s and the early 90s and the economic situation in Japan, you’ll recall that Japan was at the top of it’s game in the industrialized world in terms of economic performance; something that some observers of the time would attribute to a superior Japanese work ethic that was chalk-full of discipline. SO figuratively speaking, Japan’s economy could have been called badass.’ So what better to reflect that badass’ economic growth based on discipline than a badass’ fighter whose whole demeanor is based on being so disciplined that he only takes the good fights? That’s right, folks. Ryu was the shining icon of Japan’s economic glory days.
Ken: During the same time Japan was doing hot on the economic circuit, the US was doing anything but. During the early 90s the US was just coming out of a depression caused by huge deficit spending instituted in the early 70s through the mid 80s. So what better way to parallel the determined, studious mentality of the East with the economically complacent yet carefree mentality of the West? Better yet, what would be the best applicable contrast between the two mentalities, but while retaining the similarities of grandeur and stature? Why, making Ken, the white bread spitting image of Ryu of course! Looking at this in the political economy framework, the US and Japan were on equal footing. In coincidently, Ken played exactly like Ryu; and with respect to appearance, only sported a different colored uniform and hairstyle- implicitly immortalizing the phrase “palette-swapping.” In this case, the applicable palette swapping was indeed only skin deep. Ryu held the torch for Japan. But Ken was there to remind us that the US was still there to kick some ass- but only when it felt like it.
E. Honda: Edmond is a little bit more difficult to pin, only because Ryu effectively steals most of the content to be had. However, that only makes it easier to pinpoint his place on the SFII-to-real world scale. See, while Ryu represented the growing economic strength of the Land of the Rising Sun, he arguably had less to do with representing the culture. That’s where E. Honda steps in. While Japan was making economic inroads that spread across the world, it was also making cultural inroads as well. Ask yourself- what better icon of something purely Japanese than that OF SUMO WRESTLING? Hell- that was Honda’s driving force in the game: to show once and for all that the sumo method of combat was superior to all else. Honda’s presence in the game is to stress the influx of Japanese culture throughout the world at this time. Along with the economic influx comes the cultural influx as well; in this case, the duo of Ryu and E.Honda respectively. E. Honda, in this case, can be thought of Japan’s Ronald McDonald.
Chun Li: Chun Li’s story within the SF universe serves to illustrate interesting aspects underlying the current Chinese government and how it runs. Back in 1991, the USSR was fading into the chronicles of history, and taking mainstream’ communist rule alongside with it. In a nutshell, the reason why the USSR came down was because it was inefficient in allocating any resources, which was only worsened by it’s totalitarian nature; a totalitarian nature that was embodied within a nightmarish, DMV-level bureaucracy. Now, back to China. Dealing along the same lines of the DMV-level bureaucracy within the communist state, Chun Li grew SO fed up that she ditched China in favor of conducting her investigation OUTSIDE OF GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY. In 1991, the mafia- I mean the Chinese government, began to realize the benefit of letting the economy into private hands, as they realized what the Soviets had not: efficient economics are better left outside of the bureaucracy. Still with me? In this case, Chun Li’s pursuit of a productive investigation is reflective of China’s pursuit of productive economic policy.
Blanka: Blanka! well, Blanka doesn’t really have that much overtly political going for him, but the societal implications are there. Every place I’ve referenced regarding Brazilian history carried the following sentence: “Highly unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem.” So when poor ol’ Blanka’s plane crashed over Brazil, he got stuck in one of the worst places to be stuck in. If he had crashed over Canada, Poland, or even Houston TX, he probably would have had no time at all in getting back to his parents. But because this is Brazil, Blanka wasn’t found by some UNICEF attache- no. He was, get this, raised by wild animals of the forset. Now, while not every lost child is raised by wild animals in the forest,’ I sincerely believe, that had he been missing some place else, the course of Blanka’s life could have been much different. No monkey noises, no Shadowloo. Regardless, playing as Blanka gave me an appreciation for Brazillian poverty that no Save the Children commercial could ever have.
Zangief: Now my job gets easy.
Zangief probably carries the most accessible political lesson of the day. You see, 1991 was a period in the USSR of political and economic liberalization, carried by the phrases “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” meaning “openness” (pertaining to political freedoms) and “restructuring” (with regards to economic organization), respectively. Zangief, being one of those enterprising cats during the Cold War, probably found himself in a bind, needing to bring the rubels home. Subscribing to the “perestroika” bandwagon, he found that his niche of being larger life would come in handy WRESTLING BEARS. See, in the Soviet days, the black market was large. And for Zangief to acquire the necessary nutrition to get a mass like that, I’m going to assume that wrestling bears was a profitable endeavor. So when Gorbachev decided to open what was left of the USSR to the world, Zangief probably found it refreshing that he wouldn’t have to fight anymore bears. Now, he gets paid in vodka.
Guile: Guile may be even an easier analysis than Zangief, only due to the fact that, in the Clinton-era New World Order! get ready for it! THE US IS THE LARGEST MILITARY POWER ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET! Now that Zangief’s comrades are selling Cold War-era munitions to countries ending in “-stan” at flea market prices, the only kid on the block with a capitalist/democratic mantra to call their own is the US military. And Guile is completely representative of this. While other world warriors fight in the streets or in front of breakable Buddhist statues, Guile fights on an air force base like a jerk that flaunts their wealth to their next door neighbors. Another interesting point: since Japan has no large military to speak of (as a consequence of World War 2), the US represents the sole military power in this game; a circumstance that has been true since 1991. You won’t see that in a Soviet steel factory. As the solitary reflection of the strongest military force in the New World Order, Guile symbolically reigns supreme.
Dhalsim: Dhalsim, much like Blanka, appears to be a product of his social surroundings at this time. The CIA World Factbook cites that “Fundamental concerns in India include! extensive poverty, and ethnic and religious strife!” With these circumstances in play, I can see how a guy like Dhalsim would have enough time on his hands to meditate on making his bones turn into mush. And while I believe in God, I can honestly concede that there is no real exercise routine placed within any monotheistic holy text that would facilitate me being able to spit fire or scratch my feet while standing up. That, and the ability to teach pachyderms to dance would be an uncanny cocktail party conversation topic. Dhalsim must get all the honeys.
Balrog: If there’s anything that this character has told me about the world, it’s that Nevada is the home of sanctioned boxing matches. Outside of this assessment, I can’t find anything really substantive about his presence. Moving on!
Vega: Stressing style over all else, Vega taught me that there are indeed nations on Earth that appear to get by without any necessary international involvement whatsoever- AND be a priss about looks while doing it. Being completely representative of high culture, Vega struts onto the world scene without a care in that said world. While the New World Order was taking shape, re-writing the economic roles and political realities of huge parts of the world, Vega presents Western Europe, via Spain, as relaxed and carefree at the time. The Portuguese could claim Olivenza, and Vega wouldn’t care. Keep the running of the bulls on schedule, the restaurants clean, and Andorra content with cigar exports- that’s all the complacency needed for one in the Vega School of Conduct. Oh- and no broken masks.
Sagat: Teamed up with M.Bison representing Thailand, Sagat exemplifies the phrase “off-shore operations.” Looking back, the Thailand of the 1990s isn’t that different from the Thailand of today. Rampant piracy and opium trafficking is in effect, all for the financing of a terrorist organization like Shadowloo to do whatever they do. Activities that include things like take out random fathers of female Chinese nationals, or trying to extract the power out of Japanese metaphors of economic growth. Sagat puts up the muscle in this endeavor, and he does it quite well. But the body is useless without the brains; as those are kept nationally in-house too!
M. Bison: As the head of the operation, M. Bison is the main artery in the heart of Shadowloo. While guys like Sagat are overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization, like opium picking and hashish farming, it’s M. Bison that acts as executive, treasurer and judicator all in one. You need a man like this collecting the dough for evil Shadowloo-type events like constructing random energy beams or ice cream socials, and to keep the Thai government off it’s back. That way, kickbacks to corrupt officials are secured and everyone goes home happy. Always wondered why there wasn’t any incentive for the Thai government to enforce those copyright laws? That’s Shadowloo’s work; as every time you engage in piracy, you support terrorism. Damn it, the RIAA was right.
And as exhaustive as that may seem, those are the political lessons that I took away from Street Fighter II 12 years ago. I’m certain there’s some notes that weren’t touched upon, or perhaps that had been in the Alpha series for some asinine reason or another. But rest assured- as long as there are more installments of Street Fighter, there will definitely be more lessons to be had. Whether Rolento really is Italian, or the justification for Dan’s existence on the character roster, there’s always a lesson to be found within these works. You just gotta look for em.’
Hell- don’t stop at the SF series! I’ve learned to aim for the head of a Zombie from The House of the Dead, how to drive a stick-shift Mini from Gran Turismo, and that the undead nosferatu-type beings posses powers far beyond mortal man from the Soul Reaver series.
I’m already an expert on the Middle East- all thanks to Command and Conquer: Generals!
Knowledge can be fun! but only if you’re keeping an eye out for it.
That’s the Gamer’s Conscience.
As always, check out the rest of the heads across the 411 Games spectrum and know that we all thrive on feedback. Till next time!